I’ve been working on a Bunco & Jaggs novella in which the circus owners go looking for a mermaid to add to their sideshow. It’s coming along nicely and I thought you might like to see a small sample of it. So here, for your delight, is a sample scene from the first draft of said story.
It’s early on in the book and is written in the voice of Mr Septimus Jaggs who has been summoned to Old Peg’s Coffee and Chop House by his business partner Mr Oliver Bunco who has some interesting news to impart.
The Mermaid – A Sample Scene from a Bunco & Jaggs novella
Down streets that smelled worse than any beast wagon I trod, dodging carriages and the leavings of horses and men. Across the cobbles and down side-streets I went until finally I arrived at Old Peg’s Coffee and Chop House. Despite the finery of my motley garb I am not, and never will be, a city gent. Cities and towns do not feel as homely to me as my own movable village. But being as this business requires me to mix with normal folk, I know the best way to fit in is to act like you’ve always lived there. Walk with purpose and a determined air and you can walk into any place without getting into trouble.
I marched up to the coffee house, flung open the door and smiled broadly at the sour faced donah behind the counter. She stood, arms folded, looking me up and down and giving me the distinct impression that I might not be as welcome as I imagined.
“You’ll be lookin’ for ‘is gills over there I suppose,” she says and points towards a booth in the corner. Resting on the edge of the table I can make out the bowler of Mr Oliver Bunco
“Yes madam, I believe I am,” says I.
“Well I ‘ope you brought your bleedin’ money, cos he says your payin’.”
“Does he? Well, isn’t he wondrous.”
“Yes. I know your type,” she motions at my garb, “so don’t think you can pull one over on me.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” says I. Which is true as she was quite terrifying and I felt certain that she would happily end me. I shook the pocket of my overcoat to let her hear the jingle of coins therein. This placated the proprietress and she allowed me to enter her eatery and take my place at the table with Bunco who was shovelling a plate of greasy bacon, sausage and eggs into his gullet like he’d been starved as a child.
“Jaggs!” Bunco was always observant. “Thought you’d never get here. Are you hungry?” He beckoned to the terrifying woman.
“Muchly hungry, Bunco. Your treat?”
“Ahhh, I appear to have mislaid my dinari for the present. But I heard a jingle-jangle from your pocket as you sat so I think the treat is yours this time.” He grinned at me and I at him. I’d known Bunco long enough to know his ways and would never begrudge him a good breakfast. Who knows, he might even deserve it.
Over to our table came the angry woman. She was barely five foot tall and looked like she ate more food than she served.
“What?” she enquired of us in a most friendly manner. Well, friendly for her.
“Your finest fry up for my good omi, Mr Jaggs,” says old Bunco with a nod in my direction.
“You want coffee too I suppose?” she says, looking at me. I look to Bunco who already has a cup of the hot brown drink and bravely he takes a swig.
It is a fact that coffee is hard to come by and certain fooderies will serve what they call coffee. However, calling a hot drink “coffee” does not always mean that coffee is what you’ll get. I watched as Bunco swilled the liquid around his mouth, chewed on it a little, and after some thought, gave me a nod.
“Coffee,” I says to the woman who is giving us both the evil eye by now. She heaves a sigh and heaves herself off once more.
“Bunco, I sincerely hope you didn’t bring me to this place for the ambiance,” I says to my old friend.
“Indeed not, Jaggs. Although the food here is fine, I have a proposition that I don’t think you’ll be able to resist.”
Intrigued, I leaned in to hear more but was interrupted by the return of our jovial hostess.
“One plate o’ fried and a mug o’ coffee,” she says as she bangs my breakfast upon the table and clangs a fork in front of me. “And take your bleedin’ ‘at off! This is a respectable establishment this is.”
“Well quite, madam,” says I and I remove my hat before the shining light of the eatery removes my head.
Bunco gives a chuckle and says, “Wise. Very wise.”
“Never mind that,” says I as tuck into the greasy feast before me, what is it that’s been buzzing around that noggin of yours? Why are we here?”
“Dinari, Mr Jaggs, dinari. Or at least the possibility of making large piles of it.”
The running of a largish circus is as much a business as it is a family and I am not averse to wishing for more money to keep the coffers warm. Bunco’s news intrigues and I beckon him to, “Tell me more.”
“In a word, Jaggs, mermaid.”
“Mermaid?” says I, “Mermaid? Every sideshow in the country, if not the world, has a FeeJee Mermaid. I fail to see how sticking the top half of a monkey to the bottom half of a cod is going to make us any large piles of cash. It doesn’t work for anyone else.”
“Ahh but I’m not talking about a FeeJee Mermaid, I’m talking about a live mermaid.”
“I see,” I didn’t, “I suppose sticking a tail on one of our girls might be a pleasing site that would draw in a few punters. But again Mr Bunco, I ask you, piles of dinari? ”
“No, no, no, Jaggs. I’m talking about an actual, real, living mermaid.”
It was at this point I realised poor old Oliver Bunco had finally gone quite mad. And after I stopped laughing, I told him so.
“You’ve gone quite mad, Bunco.”
“Have I, Mr Jaggs, have I?”
“Yes,” I told him as I mopped up the grease from my breakfast plate with a piece of bread. “You see, the trouble with mermaids is, there ain’t none. On account of them dying out hundreds of years ago.”
“Maybe. But here’s the thing, I have it on good authority that they’ve been seen.”
“Good authority? From whom?”
“Why do you think I brought you here, Jaggs? Old Peg knows all about mermaids, that’s why.” He motioned toward the counter and I turned to look at none other than the light of my day and her sour face glaring at Bunco and I through the smoke of cooking bacon and sausage and other bits of pig not normally mentioned in polite company.
“What’re you staring at? Ain’t you never seen a lady before?”
I turned back to Bunco now certain he had gone mad. “Her?”
“No,” says Bunco, “Old Peg.” And he calls out the name once more.
Again I turn and as the face that launched a 1000 fried breakfast stepped lively to stop a drunk from coming in the door, and now I saw who Bunco had been calling to. Behind the light of my life, unseen amid the steam and sizzle of the cooking area stood a large man with a back so hairy you’d swear wild beasts were living in it. Upon hearing his name he turned and smiled a smile only a mother could love.
“Peg!” says Bunco, “Come and meet Mr Jaggs. He has need to hear your mermaid tale.”
I hope you enjoyed this small taste of my story; I shall continue writing it.